Examination of Witness (Questions 20-31)|
WEDNESDAY 15 OCTOBER 2003
20. And recreational?
A. I am not altogether sure there is a definition
of recreational water.
21. It is such a lovely expression, "recreational
A. I am glad to say that I am joined by my officials,
Joe Bonsall and Emily Thompson. This is a wonderful definition.
Apparently recreational water involves a water where someone is
engaged in being propelled across it in some kind of mechanical
Lord Lewis of Newnham
22. With the express purpose of not going under
A. I presume so.
23. What conclusions have emerged from the further
consultation with stakeholders foreshadowed in the Explanatory
A. In relation to the continued consultation
we have had with stakeholders, the Government's general approach
has broad support, both from the recreational users and the NGOs
but also from the water companies and agriculture because again
it is back to trying to take a pragmatic approach. We do want
high standards. We are very proud of the fact that the bathing
water quality, our coastal water and river water quality, has
dramatically improved in recent years. We have made really good
progress in this and I think that is a matter of pride and a tribute
to the very many people who have been involved in this over the
years in improving our water quality in this country. We have
done well on this. We want to apply this Directive. We want to
apply it properly, but we also want to apply it in a pragmatic
way. In terms of the response and the consultation that we have
had from the different groups, there is broad agreement on the
24. Have you in particular had any representations
from the seaside resort authorities and associated businesses
that are directly affected by designation of the Blue Flag and
so on? The suggestion is that we can see a fall from over 98 per
cent, in which we rightly took pleasure (at least for a time),
to perhaps 70 per cent. That sounds to me politically extremely
sensitive. The Environment Agency says that it will be important
to explain the relative risks to people and what action is involved;
they express anxiety that they may come under pressure and, if
there are not proper definitions, legal challenge, so this is
a sensitive area. Is there any special consideration being given
to the possible change in our ability to produce high standards
from the most sensitive bathing beaches?
A. Yes, we have had representations from the
coastal authorities and you are quite right: they are of course
very concerned about their Blue Flag designation, which has increased
over the years as the water quality has improved. They are very
worried about what the application of the Directive might do in
relation to the change in standards. Our assessment, however,
is that the worst case scenario will be about 20 per cent decline.
Things have moved on a bit and of course standards have continued
to rise and that should be set against the fact that we had an
increase in Blue Flag beaches of 26 per cent last year, so even
if it went down 20 per cent we would still have a six per cent
net gain. We may be able to mitigate this further, and again it
depends on how we apply the Directive in its final shape and form,
and in particular if we have this flexibility in relation to the
sampling where you may have the odd poor sample for the reasons
that I know you all understand.
25. Is it going to be down to the Environment
Agency ultimately to have to face local authorities who feel aggrieved
or for whom infraction proceedings might be necessary?
26. The Environment Agency clearly would wish
to try and be involved in the technical committees which must
be going on all the time to determine protocols and the like.
It was a point which arose in a different context where we were
looking at waste legislation. The Environment Agency reported
on the concordat with Defra which made it more transparent as
to how the two different branches of Government could influence
the technical detail. Do you detect any concern from the Environment
Agency about their ability to influence the negotiations in this
A. We keep in very close touch with the Environment
Agency in relation to the application of Directives of this type,
which has major implications for them, as you will appreciate.
Yes, they are concerned to the extent that there are financial
implications to them. We understand that. If they have additional
responsibilities then those are issues that we must resolve with
the Environment Agency in relation to the spending rounds which
are to come.
27. But it is not just a question of the spending
round. The point the Chairman was making, and certainly we were
making in the context of our discussion this morning, is that
what is vital when one gets to the final stage of this process
is the technical drafting and the detail which emerges in the
protocols. Certainly it was our concern in the days of the NRA,
and clearly is still the concern of the Environment Agency, that
they should be part of that process, because they are technically
skilled and they are going to have to implement it. I thought
that the idea of the concordat was to make sure that they were
up front in Brussels or wherever these meetings take place. The
question we are asking is whether this is actively happening and
whether the Agency is part of the process?
A. I can certainly assure you that they are
part of the process and they are involved at all the stages because,
of course, you are quite right: they do have expertise which is
very valuable and we value their opinion and it is important that
we approach this together.
Lord Lewis of Newnham
28. The actual figures on which the Department's
assessment is based, for instance, for E.coli and various
other thingswhat is the basis for those figures?
A. The basis is the sampling which is carried
out by the Environment Agency.
29. And who suggested the figures in the proposed
A. They come from the Commission.
30. Did you ask the Commission how they arrived
at those figures?
A. Yes. We have raised these issues with the
Commission. As I mentioned to you, we have some concerns about
some of the statistics and the statistical base on which they
are applied, not least because a lot of the research is being
done by us.
31. I think that is a very relevant note of
caution that you introduce. Those are all the questions we have.
Is there anything further you want to add, Minister?
A. Just for the record, Chairman, because Lord
Palmer asked me for the definition of "recreational waters",
I have got the full definition which I had better give to you
to make sure that I am not misleading anybody. The full definition
of "other recreational activities" and "recreational
waters" includes those activities where devices are used
to move across the water involving a meaningful risk of swallowing
water, such as surfing, windsurfing and kayaking.
Chairman: That gives Lord Palmer all he needs
to know. Can I thank you very much indeed for joining us this